ABOUT THE KOMODO DRAGON
The Komodo dragon is also sometimes known as the Komodo monitor or the Komodo Island monitor in scientific literature, although this name is uncommon. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred to as ora, buaya darat (land crocodile), or biawak raksasa (giant monitor). They live on Komodo island, Rinca island and Gili Motang. These animals are very old (exist for millions of years), but they are discovered 100 years ago, when plane accidentally landed on the island. Komodo dragons got their name by the island where they are found – Komodo Island. They are listed as “vulnerable” because human activity and natural disasters reduced their number significantly in the past century.
In the wild, adult Komodo dragons usually weigh around 70 kg (150 lb), although captive specimens often weigh more. According to Guinness World Records, an average adult male will weigh 79 to 91 kg (174 to 201 lb) and measure 2.59 m (8.5 ft), while an average female will weigh 68 to 73 kg (150 to 161 lb) and measure 2.29 m (7.5 ft). The largest verified wild specimen was 3.13 m (10.3 ft) long and weighed 166 kg (366 lb), including its undigested food.
The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently replaced, serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 cm (1 in) in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged because its teeth are almost completely covered by gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. It also has a long, yellow, deeply forked tongue. Komodo dragon skin is reinforced by armoured scales, which contain tiny bones called osteoderms that function as a sort of natural chain-mail. This rugged hide makes Komodo dragon skin a poor source of leather. Additionally, these osteoderms become more extensive and variable in shape as the Komodo dragon ages, ossifying more extensively as the lizard grows. These osteoderms are absent in hatchlings and juveniles, indicating that the natural armor develops as a product of age and competition between adults for protection in intraspecific combat over food and mates.
The Komodo dragon prefers hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry, open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. As an ectotherm, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 km/h (12 mph), diving up to 4.5 m (15 ft), and climbing trees proficiently when young through use of their strong claws. To catch out-of-reach prey, the Komodo dragon may stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. As it matures, its claws are used primarily as weapons, as its great size makes climbing impractical.
For shelter, the Komodo dragon digs holes that can measure from 1 to 3 m (3.3 to 9.8 ft) wide with its powerful forelimbs and claws. Because of its large size and habit of sleeping in these burrows, it is able to conserve body heat throughout the night and minimise its basking period the morning after. The Komodo dragon hunts in the afternoon, but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These special resting places, usually located on ridges with cool sea breezes, are marked with droppings and are cleared of vegetation. They serve as strategic locations from which to ambush deer.
Komodo dragons are carnivores. Although they have been considered as eating mostly carrion, they will frequently ambush live prey with a stealthy approach. When suitable prey arrives near a dragon’s ambush site, it will suddenly charge at the animal at high speeds and go for the underside or the throat. Komodo dragons do not deliberately allow the prey to escape with fatal injuries, but try to kill prey outright using a combination of lacerating damage and blood loss. They have been recorded as killing wild pigs within seconds, and observations of Komodo dragons tracking prey for long distances are likely misinterpreted cases of prey escaping an attack before succumbing to infection. Komodo dragons have been observed knocking down large pigs and deer with their strong tails. They are able to locate carcasses using their keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 km (5.9 mi).
Komodo dragons eat by tearing large chunks of flesh and swallowing them whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skulls, and expandable stomachs allow them to swallow prey whole. The undigested vegetable contents of a prey animal’s stomach and intestines are typically avoided. Copious amounts of red saliva the Komodo dragons produce help to lubricate the food, but swallowing is still a long process (15–20 minutes to swallow a goat). A Komodo dragon may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully, the tree is knocked down. A small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs allows it to breathe while swallowing. After eating up to 80% of its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as few as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus. After regurgitating the gastric pellet, it rubs its face in the dirt or on bushes to get rid of the mucus, suggesting it does not relish the scent of its own excretions.
The largest animals eat first, while the smaller ones follow a hierarchy. The largest male asserts his dominance and the smaller males show their submission by use of body language and rumbling hisses. Dragons of equal size may resort to “wrestling”. Losers usually retreat, though they have been known to be killed and eaten by victors. The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging, and includes invertebrates, other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo. Young Komodos will eat insects, eggs, geckos, and small mammals, while adults prefer to hunt large mammals. Occasionally, they attack and bite humans. Sometimes they consume human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves. This habit of raiding graves caused the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and pile rocks on top of them to deter the lizards. The Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on the extinct dwarf elephant Stegodon that once lived on Flores, according to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond. The Komodo dragon drinks by sucking water into its mouth via buccal pumping (a process also used for respiration), lifting its head, and letting the water run down its throat.